Interactions Bioculturelles


Sophie Caillon

Chargée de recherche au CNRS
Ethnobiologiste / géographe

Responsable de l'équipe Interactions bioculturelles
Chercheure associée à l'UMR CREDO
Porteur du projet PICS Bien-Etre
Membre de l'ANR ASSET, du projet Crop-Diversity LICCI et du projet UE FALAH


Mon domaine de recherche peut être défini par deux thèmes : les relations Hommes-milieux, et l’agrobiodiversité. J’analyse comment les deux composantes du concept de biodiversité, les diversités culturelle et biologique, interagissent, et comment elles peuvent constituer un potentiel d’adaptation pour des sociétés confrontées à des changements de plus en plus rapides et globaux.



Campus du CNRS
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F-34293 Montpellier 5
Tél. : +33 (0) 4 67 61 33 41
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bureau 2-C-204

ORCID : 0000-0002-1804-2212

Pour résumer
Disciplines : Géographie culturelle / Ethnobiologie
Pays : Vanuatu / Amazonie (Brésil, Pérou et Equateur) / Colombie / France (Gaillac)
Thématique : Relations entre les humains et leur environnement
Méthodes : Observation participante, entretiens et questionnaires, analyse des réseaux sociaux
Mots-clefs : agrodiversité, analyse des réseaux sociaux, interactions bioculturelles, diversité culturelle, conservation in situ, droits fonciers, indicateurs de bien-être/résilience, système semencier, végéculture


reino unidoPublications


Researcher in Geography/Ethnobiology at CNRS

My field of research can be defined by two themes: the relationships between humans and habitats, and agrobiodiversity. I analyse how the two components of the biodiversity concept, cultural and biological interact and how they constitute an adaptive potential for societies exposed to faster and faster global changes.

Actual position
Person in charge of the research team "Biocultural Interactions"
Researcher at CNRS since 2007 - Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (UMR 5175 CEFE), Biocultural Interactions group - Montpellier
Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Documentation on Oceania (UMR 7308) - Marseille

Key words
Countries: Vanuatu / Amazonia (Brazil, Peru and Ecuador) / Colombia / France (Gaillac)
Methods: Participant observation, survey & questionnaire, social network analysis
Key-words: agrodiversity, biocultural interactions, cultural diversity, informal seed system, in situ conservation, land tenure, resilience, social network analysis, seed circulation, vegeculture, wellbeing/resilience indicators

Research themes

  1. Adaptation to socio-environmental changes: Resilience, or the adaptation of humans to socio-environmental changes, is a transversal theme of all my projects. Humans adapt to their environment in large part by adapting it to their needs, i.e., by constructing their social and ecological niche. I attempt to answer questions such as the following: How can the interactions between cultural and biological diversities contribute to the capacity for adaptation of societies confronted by increasingly rapid and globalized changes? How do societies in close relation with their environment use, transform, invent and transmit their knowledge in relation to extreme climatic events or social changes? I am investigating the importance of mosaic landscapes, which provide complementary spaces in which to cultivate crops, harvest forest products, or fish and harvest marine resources.


  1. Biocultural diversity, conservation and local knowledge: I investigate the interactions between the two components of the concept of biodiversity—cultural and biological diversities—in order to describe local knowledges and practices of small-scale agricultural societies. I try to describe and understand the complexity of agrobiodiversity by answering questions such as the following: How does the complex of farmers’ knowledges and practices impact the diversity of crops? And reciprocally, what can the information (nomenclature, classification, uses, and origin) collected on people’s relations with plants teach us about the society, its organization and its reproduction? My work emphasizes the fundamental links between the person, the place and the plant.

Projects (3): PhD, MAN, GDR MOSAIQUE.

  1. Circulation of seeds and of knowledge: The analysis of seed exchange networks can reveal new relations between societies and biodiversity. How does the structure of seed circulation networks impact agrobiodiversity, including intraspecific genetic diversity of crop plants? But also, what are the social and geographical barriers that constrain the structure of inter-individual relations? I am working on the influence of the status of humans and of plants (in terms of their biocultural significance) on the structure and functioning of seed circulation networks. Going further than seed systems, social network analysis is also a useful tool to analyze how knowledge circulate among farmers.


  1. Indicators of wellbeing, from Oceania to Gaillac: The process of developing wellbeing indicators with a biocultural approach can help to (1) overcome the nature-culture dichotomy that often makes global approaches inconsistent with local approaches by integrating the various forms of relationship with nature, (2) incorporate feedbacks between humans and their environment with a focus on processes, not just final states, and (3) define, measure and monitor ecological and human well-being as a whole. Using the same term "wellbeing" for humans and non-humans would help strengthen the interactions between humans and non-humans. With my colleagues from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Hawaii (among others), we reveal that wellbeing in Oceania depends mostly on the strength of the connections between people and of people with their place, and on the richness of their local knowledges; these three components are rarely integrated in the Sustainable Development Goals or Aichi Targets. Such results are not surprising when working only with a small group of people whose wealth of local knowledge respectful to nature and the adaptability of their practices are well established. The co-construction of wellbeing indicators with Western peoples in Gaillac will allow us to demonstrate that other—less ancestral, less isolated or less rural--peoples can also develop social ties and a strong attachment to the place and to the beings that interact with it.


  1. Diversity of relations, knowledges and practices in viticulture (Gaillac): I want to describe the diversity of agricultural knowledges and practices created and transmitted by winegrowers in Gaillac (Occitanie, France). They are shaped by diverse (1) ontologies (i.e. the nature and relation of being), in particular multiple forms of relations between humans and their territory (cf. “attachment-to-place”), and (2) property regimes (small ownership, renting schemes or ‘fermage’, production cooperatives, ownership of large tracts of land by absent proprietors). How do new practices emerge? Winegrowers are great investigators, experimenting alone or with other colleagues, using an empirical and validation-by-proof framework. What kinds of knowledge are mobilized by scientists and by farmers? How can they work together? Although complementarity between scientific and local knowledge is now recognized, practical applications are rare, and there is still little understanding of epistemological questions and power issues.

Projects (3): CAN, BIEN, ASSET.


Over the course of my undergraduate and graduate training, I chose a path that mixed disciplines (from ecology to anthropology), academic traditions (in francophone and Anglo-Saxon universities), and basic and applied research. In the following, I detail the methods I use to answer my research questions.

  1. Anthropology: Participant observation, surveys and questionnaires (statistical analyses, for example, using free-listing techniques) are embedded in long periods of fieldwork. The particularity of this approach lies in its explicit emphasis on the perceptions, knowledge and understandings of indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs) of their own reality and problems. This is called an emic approach.
  1. Ethnobiology: Ethnoecology is the study of complex relationships, both past and present, between human societies and their environment. I use the traditional tools of ethnobotany to analyze and understand the processes by which people name, classifyand use plants. In work on biocultural interactions, I have adopted adaptationist and process-based approaches to always put Indigenous/local knowledge in a social, environmental, economic but also symbolic context.
  1. Geography and agronomy: I am interested in the mapping of living spaces and resources, and more recently in the way participatory maps with farmers could reveal place-attachment and generate optimistic and pessimistic scenarios to design future landscapes. I have compared present and past uses (with time series of aerial photos and satellite images in Vanuatu), and examined local typology (nomenclature, use, right of access). In relation to agronomy, I have opted for inventories and the morphological description of plants in situ.
  1. Social network analysis and genetics: I also work in the field of social network analysis through statistical and modeling methods. Using the statistical package R, in collaboration with mathematicians who are continuously developing new methods, we are finding ways to better analyze small samples and/or qualitative data. The NetSeed project, which I co-directed with Prof D. McKey, led us to realize that social network analysis requires specialist expertise in modelling. I therefore co-founded with other colleagues the MIRES and MADRES projects, and the GDR ResoDiv, within which social scientists and bio-mathematicians work together. I also continue to collaborate with geneticists of crop populations with a cross-disciplinary approach.
  1. Biocultural approaches: These approaches are centered on local ways of knowing and on local values, with the potential for using western science in support of objectives defined by IPLCs. To summarize, a biocultural approach includes local values, knowledges, beliefs and ontologies, recognizes feedbacks between nature and culture, and reinforces the “people as part of nature” perspective.
  1. Mixed approaches: Interdisciplinarity can better be achieved if we focus on methods rather than on disciplines. My main methodological goal is to better integrate qualitative and quantitative approaches in answering questions in social and human sciences. We need to erase pre-conceived ideas and artificial oppositions between qualitative and quantitative methods. Through my research, I am careful to (1) qualify before, during and after quantifying, (2) adopt long-term ethnographic observations to choose the best hypothesis among alternatives, (3) explain what is modeled and what we leave out, and to (4) avoid the transformation of every kind of data into quantifiable data (quantisizing).



Since 2007, 20 projects funded; 7 as PI or co-PI.

2020-2023 Family farming, lifestyle and health in the Pacific (FALAH)

Lead researcher: Jean-Marie Fotsing (Geographer, University of Caledonia).
Sophie Caillon is responsible of the task “Agricultural production in the environment and exchanges”.
Funding: (about 1M €)
FALAH is a multidisciplinary project focused mainly on family farming and food in the Pacific Islands. Due to the close relationships between agriculture and food, the project is structured into three complementary scientific components. The scientific results of the research work carried out in the two thematic work packages (food and agriculture) will largely feed into the third working group based on knowledge exchange and communication. The project involves some fifteen multidisciplinary teams at local, regional and international networks. This network-networking project mobilizes researchers and teaching-researchers from Europe and partners from Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon, New-Caledonia and Australia. During this project, three times phases are planned at different levels between 2020, 2012 and 2022. In each phase, joint meetings in the form of workshops or conferences are planned for the work packages. At the same time, common areas of experimentation / exploration for future research are planned on the Pacific Fields of application (Fiji, Solomon, Vanuatu and NC). The secondments of the members of the scientific teams are defined on the basis of these joint meetings. The main objective is to build a network of research teams operating in the Pacific Islands that have a common interest in food security and its direct or indirect relationship with the environment; lifestyle and health. The final goal is to promote and revitalise family agriculture to improve the health of Pacific populations and ensure food security in the context of rapid social and economic transformations and climate change, which effect are particularity harmful to Pacific islands.


2019-2021 Well-being indicators: Using a biocultural approach for co-construction (BIEN)

Lead researcher: Sophie Caillon (Geographer, UMR CEFE) and Ken MacDonald (Geographer, University of Toronto).
Funding (about 21000 €): Institute for Ecology and Environment (INEE) of the CNRS.
Using a biocultural approach to co-construct indicators (i.e. by valuing indicators co-constructed with people engaged in the field and by measuring the interactions between nature and culture), we will elucidate the relationships between knowledge, practices and landscapes (i.e. social links and attachment to the place) and more generally between humans and non-humans. The objective of this PICS project is to develop, following a biocultural approach, well-being indicators intelligible to researchers, farmers and policy makers. Our collaborative project aims to synthesize various sources of knowledge and to encourage cultural and geographical exchanges (1) between researchers in the United States (American Museum of Natural History), Canada (University of Toronto) and France (CNRS, University Paul Sabatier and University Jean Jaurès), (2) between scientists in ecology and those in the humanities and social sciences, and (3) between scientists, farmers, and policy makers.


2018 Support for international mobility as an invited professor at McGill University, Montreal, Canada (CAN)

Lead researcher: Sophie Caillon.
Funding (6000 €): Institute of Social and Human Sciences (INSHS) of the CNRS.
This scholarship helped Sophie Caillon settle for six months as visiting professor at McGill University in Montreal (Canada). In Montreal, but also in the surrounding areas (New York and Toronto), she was able to consolidate old collaborations (Oliver Coomes, professor of geography at McGill University, Eleanor Sterling, ecologist at AMNH) and develop new collaborations today formalized by obtaining a CNRS PICS (Scott Prudham and Ken MacDonald, professors of geography at the University of Toronto) or being formalized by the submission of a MUSE-EXPLORE project (Ismael Vaccaro, Professor of Anthropology, McGill University). Taking advantage of her new geographical location, she was invited to give lectures in Toronto and Hawaii.


2018-2022 Methodological approaches to the dynamics of agrobiodiversity: field work, networks, models (GDR ReSoDiv)

Lead researcher: Christine Raimond (Geographer, UMR Prodig).
Funding (about 28000 €): Institute for Ecology and Environment (INEE) of the CNRS.

The group's mission is to federate an interdisciplinary community integrating human and social sciences, mathematics and life sciences around a transversal theme: the study of circulation networks of biological objects (plants and animals), and knowledge and know-how associated with them. This original approach is based on the regular collaboration since 2012 of a group of researchers who meet two to three times a year, valuing the research activities (definition of subjects of Master and Doctorate, publications) and encouraging the assembly of several programs (ANR PRC, ANR JCJC, CESAB working group, PEPS, Agropolis Fondation). The objectives of this GDR structure are (1) to widen the working group to researchers interested in the interactions between circulation practices and the diversity of domesticated genetic resources (plants, animals), in order to develop a comparative approach that can reveal the generic properties of the systems studied; (2) to valorize an interdisciplinary research on agrobiodiversity evolution based on the cross-analysis and multiscalar analysis (from the gene to the processions of species, and from the individual to the region) of the dynamics of agrobiodiversity, social networks and spaces in which plants and animals circulate; (3) and to collectively formalize the methodological and analytical advances developed within the framework of the GDR.


2018-2022 AgrobiodiverSity for a food-Secure PlanET (ASSET)

Lead researchers: Delphine Renard (Ecologist, UMR CEFE).
Funding (1 million €): Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) though the program Make Our Planet Great Again (MOPGA).

Climate change threatens food security through both long-term rising temperatures, and the increasing frequency of extreme temperatures and precipitation events. ASSET project will examine a largely overlooked strategy that is based on agrobiodiversity, i.e., the domesticated and wild biodiversity contained in agroecosystems. Numerous studies point out that agrobiodiversity could enhance many aspects of food security (e.g. pest suppression, nutrition, health and sustainability). We postulate that an additional key benefit of increasing agrobiodiversity is the reduction of climate-driven risks of crop failure through an “insurance effect”: in a diversified system, one crop may fail, but multiple failures are less likely. ASSET project will identify, for specific regions, (1) the spatial scale(s) at which agrobiodiversity can contribute to yield stabilization via different mechanisms and (2) the identity of the suites, or ‘baskets’ of crops that can achieve high levels of resilience to climatic variability. This project will engage strongly with farmers on local case studies to (3) understand how they currently use agrobiodiversity to face diminishing and increasingly variable precipitation. Our work will focus on Europe, Mediterranean nations and Sub-Saharan Africa, all regions subject to increasing heat and water stress.


2016-2018 Assessing Biocultural Indicators of Community Resilience (SNAPP)

Lead researchers: Tamara Ticktin (Ethnobiologist, University of Hawaii), Stacy D. Jupiter (Marine biologist, Wildlife Conservation Society), Manuel Mejia (Marine biologist, The Nature Conservancy), and Eleanor Sterling (Ecologist, American Museum of Natural History, NYC).
Funding (about 60000 €): U.S.-based National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) - Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP).

Biocultural feedbacks are widely believed to play a critical role in fostering resilience of both human and ecological communities, but they are poorly understood. Through synthesis of the literature and comparative data analyses from on-going projects across a wide range of Pacific Island communities, we will identify (i) What makes a good biocultural indicator and how can it be measured?; (ii) How can we scale local to global indicators and which have relevance across Pacific Island sites?; and (iii) What is the relationship between pressures, 'biocultural state’, benefits and management responses in Pacific Island communities?


2015-2017 US-Pacific Islands planning visits: Conceiving biocultural resilience with Pacific island communities: bridging disciplines, language, and culture (CNIC)

Lead researchers: Eleanor Sterling, Christopher Filardi (Ecologist, American Museum of Natural History, NYC) and Jennifer Newell (Anthropologist, American Museum of Natural History, NYC).
Funding (about 45000 €): U.S.-based National Science Foundation (NSF) - Catalyzing New International Collaborations (CNIC).
This project aims to unite disparate research groups and local communities to better understand and manage Pacific Island system resilience in the face of pending large-scale disturbances such as climate change and increasing market pressures. This collaborative project is designed to bring together individuals and communities across three existing gaps: those between cultural and geographic boundaries in the Pacific, between biological and social scientists, and between scientists and local communities. This project plans to develop "biocultural resilience indicators" that are academically rigorous while also feasible to implement for decision making by communities faced with imminent social, economic, and ecological disturbances.


2015-2017 PAthogen-Informed sustainable resistance of cassava against Xanthomonas (PAIX).

Lead researcher: Boris Szurek (Geneticist, IRD).
Funding (about 400000 €): Agropolis Fondation.
Worldwide, bacteria of the genus Xanthomonas, causal agent of cassava bacterial blight, are devastating cassava cultures. In the work package I lead, the objective is to identify farming practices (intra- and inter-species diversities, species organizations in time and space, socio-economical contexts) that limit the propagation of the disease in Colombia. We investigate the impacts of seed circulation networks on diffusion of the disease (epidemiology and genetic diversity, in collaboration with Christian Vernière, CIRAD) and on the varietal diversity of cassava (named and genetic diversity (in collaboration with Anne Duputié, University of Lille).


2015-2017 Dynamique des activités agricoles et de pêche dans la région de Mossaka, Cuvette congolaise (CONGO)

Lead researcher: Doyle McKey (Ecologist, University of Montpellier).
Funding (about 30000 €): Institut Universitaire de France.
Floodplains are environments characterized by periodic flooding. People living in the floodplains combine agricultural practices with activities of fishing, breeding, hunting, and extraction of forest products to exploit the diversity of natural resources and to adapt to the variability of water level. The majority of work in this domain focuses on one particular aspect of the subsistence system by overshadowing other activities or looking at activities independently. This project has helped the PhD candidate Marion Comptour to do her fieldwork on the pluriactivity system in the floodplains of the Congo River.


2015-2016 Modeling and analyzing dynamics within seed exchange networks (MADRES)

Lead researcher: Samuel Martin (Computer scientist, University of Lorraine)
Funding (about 10000 €): Project PEPS MoMIS (CNRS).
Biodiversity is largely impacted by seed exchange networks. MADRES aims to better understand both the formation of seed exchange networks and their impact on the development of agrobiodiversity. This interdisciplinary consortium of researchers (social sciences, statistics and modelers of networks in dynamic systems) worked in two complementary areas: (i) formulation of generative graphical models to represent seed flows; (ii) development of networked dynamical systems to model seed selection by farmers. Numerical simulations and theoretical analysis enabled a predictive understanding of models.


2012-2019 Interdisciplinary Methods for Networks of Seed Exchanges (MIRES).

Lead researchers: François Massol (Modeler, CNRS), Sophie Caillon and Pierre Barbillon (Statistician, AgroParisTech)
Funding (about 40000 €): Department of Applied Mathematics and Informatics (INRA), RNSC (National Network of Complex Systems).
MIRES focuses on the flow of seeds between farmers, a process that represents the principal source of genetic diversity in agro-ecosystems. This project seeks to develop multi-level models and methods of analysis in order to better understand the social dynamics inherent in the flow of seeds and their impacts on agrobiodiversity.


2011-2014 Agrobiodiversity and social networks. An interdisciplinary method to analyze how local systems of seed banks affect the diversity of domestic plants (NetSeed)

Lead researchers: Doyle McKey (Ecologist, University of Montpellier) in collaboration with Sophie Caillon and François Massol (Modeler, CNRS).
Funding (200000 €): Center of Synthesis and Analysis on Biodiversity (CESAB) of the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB).
The flow of seeds can weaken local adaptation by introducing inappropriate species or varieties, or strengthen systems of culture by making them more adaptable to change. Through a meta-analysis of data, we studied the networks of seed exchange (SEENs) between farmers to determine how this structure – the direction and intensity of flows, and the distribution of genealogical, sociocultural, or geographic distances between implicated individuals or social entities – influences agrobiodiversity. We also examined how this structure interacts with socio-economic factors.


2012-2015 European Consortium for Pacific Studies (ECOPAS).

Lead researchers: Professor Edvard Hviding (Anthropologist, University of Bergen) and Laurent Dousset (Anthropologist, EHESS).
Funding (1500000 €): European project _ Coordination and support action _ FP7-SSH-2012-2.
The objective of this project was to create an easily accessible online platform bringing together information about resources (publications, media, etc.), researchers and their expertise, and associations and other groups. This platform was designed not only for researchers but also for all other local actors interested in and working on the causes and consequences of climate change in the South Pacific.


2010-2017 Research Group « Agroecosystems, Agrobiodiversities and Environment, Domestication and Innovations » (MOSAÏQUE, GDR 3353 CNRS)

Lead researcher: Yildiz Aumeeruddy-Thomas (Ethnobiologist, CNRS).
Funding (about 150000 €): Institute for Ecology and Environment (INEE) of the CNRS.
The objective of this research group is to explore the social, historical, biological, and political processes that have contributed to shaping agroecosystems and their agrobiodiversity. Using a diachronic perspective that allows a unique understanding of the durability, resilience, and innovations underlying the relations between societies and agrobiodiversity, the research group contributes to a better understanding of social – environmental relations.


2011-2014 Sustainable management of marine resources: towards a better engagement of traditional populations in Vanuatu (GESTRAD)

Lead researcher: Sophie Caillon in collaboration with Marc Leopold (Ichthyologist, IRD).
Funding (15200 €): Fonds Pacifique and Ambassade de France of Vanuatu.
The objective of this project was to contribute to the definition of a national fisheries policy, and to improve the participation of village communities in defining these regulations. A regional workshop promoted exchange of information between Vanuatu (Cultural Center, Departments of Fisheries and Environment) and neighboring countries.


2010-2014 From the ancient to the Modern? Transmission of practice, knowledge, and representations of territory in the Brazilian Amazonia (USART)

Lead researcher: François-Michel Le Tourneau (Geographer, CNRS).
Funding: Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) « Young Researchers »
Before the advance of deforestation and its negative consequences (local and global climate change or biodiversity loss, etc.), it is necessary to encourage the maintenance of “traditional populations” of Amazonia in the spaces where they live. What are the essential properties and functions of plants and knowledge associated with the territory and what practices / performances reflect a break in the modes of articulation in space? The aim of our project was to study how local knowledge is transmitted and transformed.


2008-2012 Evolution of the diversity of domesticated resources in the Lake Chad Basin (PLANTADIV)

Lead researcher: Eric Garine (Anthropologist, Université Paris IX).
Funding (812 211 €): Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) program « Biodiversité ».
When facing disturbances, how are agropastoral systems in Sudano-Sahelian region reorganizing knowing that they are based on complementarity between inter- and intra-specific diversities? The objectives of this project were (i) to characterize agricultural biodiversity maintained in agro-ecosystems of the Lake Chad basin, (ii) to understand its evolution under the impact of social and environmental changes in the twentieth century. Within this project, I was particularly interested in the evolution of biennial rotations that Mafa and Xide farmers have developed for centuries in the Mandara Mountains (North Cameroon).


2009-2010 Environmental and social impact of migrants on a South Pacific island (MIGRAVAN)

Lead researcher: Sophie Caillon.
Funding (22000 €): Conseil scientifique de l’Université Montpellier 2.
By investing a "virgin" territory, migrants disrupt an ecosystem, and introduce immaterial or material, natural or manufactured objects. These objects are involved in the transformation of cultural and biological diversities. What are the environmental and social impacts of inter-island human migration in Vanuatu? To answer this question, we 1. identified the nature of transported plants (agricultural or forest resources) during migration, and 2. analyzed the treatment (use, perception, representation) of the invested space.


2007 Local management of cassava in Vanuatu (Tanna island) (MAN)

Lead researcher: Doyle McKey (Ecologist, University of Montpellier) in collaboration with Sophie Caillon.
Funding (about 15000 €): Prix d’Ethnobotanique Yves Rocher-Institut de France (2006).
The objective of this project was to compare the evolutionary dynamics of the diversity of cassava in its original area (case study in French Guiana and Guyana) and in areas where it was introduced (Gabon and Vanuatu). We examined links between farmers’ practices and diversity in each of these areas.


2005-2009 Migration and agrobiodiversity in the Rufiji valley in Tanzania (TANZ)

Lead researcher: Stéphanie Duvail (Geographer, IRD).
Funding (about 60000 €): Program « young-researchers » from the Institut Français de la Biodiversité (IFB).
In a context of short-term (marked by seasonal floods and rains, population displacements) and long-term (disruption of seasonality) changes, the team of young researchers composed of geographers, ethnobiologists, economists and lawyers examined ‘the migration experiences of the Rufiji populations. Specifically, I was interested in farmers’ coping strategies in relation to their choice of which plants and which ecosystems to cultivate and when to plant.


2001-2005 Towards a dynamic conservation of agrobiodiversity: Locally managing the varietal diversity of a tree “from the Whites” (coconut, Cocos nucifera L.) and of a plant “from the ancestors” (taro, Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) in Vanuatu (TACO)

Directeur de thèse : Dr. J.-P. Lescure (Ethnoecologist, IRD).
Funding (about 130000 €): fellowship of the région Centre, IRD and CIRAD.
The varietal diversity of coconut and taro in an isolated village from Vanuatu were identified using tools from agronomy, anthropology, genetics and geography. The results of this interdisciplinary work suggested that its validation, both from the local as well as scientific points of view, depends not only upon the social relationships with the plants, which have been shaped by their biology and their history, but also upon the purposes for which they are intended, namely, to preserve a cultural diversity, a phenotypic variability, an evolutionary potential and the place’s memory through ancestral links. The contrasting examples of the taro (a socially valued object, cultivated on land inherited “from the ancestors”, and linked to an important cultural diversity and a narrow genetic-base) and the coconut (a socially valued object, planted in a crop space at the prompting of “the Whites” and genetically diverse despite few named categories) demonstrated that the same farmers made up a society that, through its management of taro, affirms traditional ecological knowledge, while at the same time participates in a market economy by intensifying its crop of coconuts. This thesis showed that the integration of cultural and biological diversity into the biodiversity concept can lead to contradictions if this knowledge, reduced to simple formulae, is abstracted from its cognitive and socio-cultural settings. In questioning the feasibility of in situ conservation and participatory plant breeding politics, it underlined the fact that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary to optimize the effectiveness and conciliation of conservation and development programs for subsequent populations that are confronted with processes of globalization.


Peer-reviewed journals

23. Comptour M., Cosiaux A., Coomes O.T., Bader J.-C., Malaterre P.-O., Yoka J., Caillon S.* & McKey D.* (2019). Agricultural innovation and environmental change on the floodplains of the Congo River. The Geographical Journal. *These two authors contributed equally to this study.

22. Dacks R., Ticktin T., Mawyer A., Caillon S., Claudet J., Fabre P., Jupiter S., McCarter J., Mejia M., Pascua P., Sterling E., Wongbusarakum S. (2019). Developing biocultural indicators for resource management. Conservation Science and Practice.

21. Comptour M., Caillon S., Rodrigues L. & McKey D. 2018. Wetland raised-field agriculture and its contribution to sustainability: ethnoecology of a present-day african system and questions about pre-columbian systems in the American Tropics. Sustainability 10(9): 3120.

20. Caillon S., Cullman G., Verschuuren B. & Sterling E. (2017). Biocultural approaches to designing indicators: moving beyond the dichotomy between humans and non-humans. Ecology and Society 22(4): art. 27.

19. Sterling E. J., Filardi C., Newell J., Albert S., Alvira D., Bergamini N., Betley E., Blair M., Boseto D., Burrows K., Bynum N., Caillon S., Caselle J.E., Claudet J., Cullman G., Dacks R., Eyzaguirre P. B., Gazit N., Gray S., Herrera J., Kenilorea P., Kinney K., Kurashima N., Macey S., Mauli S., McCarter J., McMillen H., Pascua P., Pikacha P., Porzecanski A.L., de Robert P., Salpeteur M., Sigouin A., Sirikolo M., Stege M.H., Stege K., Ticktin T., Toomey A., Vave R., Wali A., West P., Winter K.B. & Jupiter S. (2017). Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales. Nature: Ecology and Evolution, October 23rd. http://doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0349-6.

18. Sterling, E., Ticktin T., Morgan K., Cullman G., Alvira D., Andrade P., Bergamini N., Betley E., Burrows K., Caillon S., Claudet J., Dacks R., Eyzaguirre P., Filardi C., Gazit N., Giardina C., Jupiter S., Kinney K., McCarter J., Mejia M., Morishige K., Newell J., Noori L., Parks J., Pascua P., Ravikumar A., Tanguay J., Sigouin A., Stege T., Stege M., Wali A. (accepted). Culturally grounded indicators of resilience in social-ecological systems. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 8: 63–95.

17. Comptour M., Caillon S. & McKey D. (2016). Pond fishing in the Congolese cuvette: a story of fishermen, animals and water spirits. Revue d’ethnoécologie 10.

16. Thomas M. & Caillon S. (2016). Effects of social status of farmers and biocultural value of plants on seed circulation networks in Vanuatu. Ecology and Society 21: art13

15. Thomas M., Verzelen N., Barbillon P., Coomes O.T., Caillon S., McKey D., Elias M., Garine E., Raimond C., Dounias E., Jarvis D., Wencélius J., Leclerc C., Labeyrie V., Cuong P.H., Hue N.T.N., Sthapit B., Rana R.B., Barnaud A., Violon C., Reyes L.M.A., Moreno L.L., De Santis P., Massol F. (2015). Chapter Six - A network-based method to detect patterns of local crop biodiversity: validation at the species and infra-species levels. In: Guy, W., David, A.B. (Eds.), Advances in Ecological Research. Academic Press, 53: 259-320.

14. Coomes O., McGuire S., Garine E., Caillon S., McKey D., Demeulenaere E., Jarvis D., Aistara G., Barnaud A., Clouvel P., Emperaire L., Louafi S., Martin P., Massol F., Pautasso M.,  Violon C. & Wencélius J. (2015). Farmer seed networks make a limited contribution to agriculture? Four common misconceptions. Food policy 56: 41-50.

13. Leopold M., Beckensteiner J., Kalatavara & Caillon S. (2013). Community-based management of coastal fisheries in Vanuatu: what works? Marine Policy 42: 167-176.

12. Pautasso M., Aistara G., Barnaud A., Caillon S., Clouvel P., Coomes, Delêtre M., Demeulenaere E., De Santis P., Döring, Eloy L., Emperaire L., Garine E., Goldringer I., Jarvis D., Joly H.I., Leclerc C., Louafi S., Martin P., Massol F., McGuire S., McKey D., Padoch C., Soler C., Thomas M., Tramontini S. (2013). Seed exchange networks for agrobiodiversity conservation. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 33(1): 151-175.

11. Caillon S. & Coomes O.T. (2012). Agriculture traditionnelle et fleurs coupées: un mariage réussi en Amazonie. Journal des anthropologues, 128-129: 85-114.

10. Caillon S. (2011). Ethnobotanique du cocotier (Cocos nucifera L.) sur l’île de Vanua Lava (Vanuatu), Journal de la Société des Océanistes 133: 333-352.

9. Le Tourneau F.-M., Caillon S., Eloy L., Greissing A., Kohlers F., Marchand G. & Nasuti S. (2008). "Géographie et anthropologie. Deux regards complémentaires pour l’étude des territoires des populations traditionnelles d’Amazonie brésilienne" EchoGéo 7 (Sur le Métier – Hommage à Claude Lévi-Strauss).

8. Caillon S. & Degeorges P. J. (2007). Biodiversity: negotiating the border between nature and culture. Biodiversity and Conservation, 16(10): 2919-2931.

7. Caillon S. (2007). Arbre d'antan, arbre « des Blancs ». Evolution de la valeur sociale des cocotiers et de leur espace à Vanua Lava (Vanuatu). Géographie et Culture « Médiance et Géographicité », 63: 87-104.

6. Caillon S., Quero-García J., Lescure J.-P. & Lebot V. (2006). Nature of taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) genetic diversity prevalent in a Pacific Ocean island, Vanua Lava, Vanuatu. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 53(6): 1273-1289.

5. Caillon S. & Lanouguère-Bruneau V. (2005). Gestion de l'agrobiodiversité dans un village de Vanua Lava (Vanuatu): stratégies de sélection et enjeux sociaux. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 120-121(1): 129-148.

4. Caillon S. & Degeorges P. (2005). Biodiversités, quand les frontières entre culture et nature s’effacent…. Ecologie & Politique, 30: 85-95.

3. Caillon S. (2005). Les taros du Vanuatu: Que conserver et comment? Nature Sciences et Sociétés, 13(3): 306-310.

2. Caillon S., Quero-García J. & Guarino L. (2004). Taros in Vanuatu: toward a dynamic conservation strategy. Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture, 20(1): 18-20.

1. Labouisse J.-P. & Caillon S. (2001). Une approche de la conservation in situ par l'étude d'un système semencier informel : cas du cocotier au Vanuatu (Pacifique Sud). Oléagineux Corps gras Lipides, 8(5): 534-539.

Book chapters

11. Labeyrie V., Caillon S., Salpeteur M. & Thomas M. (2019). Network analysis: linking social and ecological dynamics. In Waldeck R. (ed.), Methods and interdisciplinarity, Iste Ltd. & Wiley, Londres : 69-97.

10. Labeyrie V., Caillon S., Salpeteur M. & Thomas M. (2019). Etudes des interactions entre les sociétés et l’environnement : l’analyse des réseaux comme méthode pour faire le lien entre sciences biologiques et sociales. In Waldeck R. (ed.), Méthodes et interdisciplinarité, Iste Ltd. & Wiley, Londres : 73-94.

9. Caillon S., Eloy L. & Le Tourneau F-M. (2017). Chapitre IV. Elevage et espace agricole. In Le Tourneau F-M. (ed.), Amazonie brésilienne. Usages et représentations du territoire. Editions de l’IHEAL, coll. « Travaux et mémoires », Paris : 133-160.

8. Caillon S. & Muller S. (2015). Géographie et savoirs locaux : pour une conservation dynamique de l’agrobiodiversité au Vanuatu, in Mathevet R. & Godet L. (eds.) Pour une géographie de la conservation. Réflexions stratégiques et prospectives. L’Harmattan, Paris. 400p : 209-227.

7. Caillon, S. 2015. Exemple 5.2 Diversité bioculturelle des systèmes horticoles au Vanuatu. In In Ronce O. & Pelegrin F., Réponses et adaptations aux changements globaux : quels enjeux pour la recherche sur la biodiversité ? Prospective de recherche. Série FRB, Réflexions stratégiques et prospectives, Paris : 38-39.

6. Caillon S. & Claudet J. (2014). Quand la nature nous rend service in Forget P.M., Hossaert-McKey M. & Poncy O. (eds.) L'Ecologie Tropicale, CNRS - Cherche-Midi: 144-163.

5. Eloy L., Le Tourneau F.-M., Nasuti S., Caillon S., Kohler F., Marchand G., & Greissing A. (2013). Collectif ou individuel ? Territoire & patrimoine chez les quilombolas d’Amazonie orientale. In D. Juhé-Beaulaton, M.-C. Cormier-Salem, P. de Robert. & B. Roussel (éds.), Effervescence patrimoniale au Sud. Entre nature & société. Editions de l’IRD, coll. Latitudes 23, Marseille: 199-225.

4. Garine E., Luxereau A., Wencelius J., Violon C., Robert T.,  Barnaud A., Caillon S., & Raimond C. (2013). De qui les variétés traditionnelles de plantes cultivées pourraient-elles être le patrimoine ? Réflexions depuis le Bassin du Lac Tchad. In D. Juhé-Beaulaton, M.-C. Cormier-Salem, P. de Robert. & B. Roussel (éds.), Effervescence patrimoniale au Sud. Entre nature et société. Editions de l’IRD, coll. Latitudes 23, Marseille: 379-410.

3. Caillon S. (2012). Produce to exchange. The taro water-gardens on Vanua Lava (Vanuatu), a social and sustainable place, in Matthew Spriggs, David Addisson & Peter J. Matthews (eds.) Irrigated taro (Colocasia esculenta) in the Indo-Pacific. Biological, social and historical perspectives. Senri Ethnological Series 78, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japon.: 189-208.

2. Caillon S. Participation (2 photos and their legend) to the book Hommes et natures, People and natures (2012), edited by Motte-Florac E., Aumeeruddy-Thomas Y., Dounias E., Seres humanos y naturalezas. IRD, Marseille, 175 p.

1. Kohler F., Eloy L., Le Tourneau F.-M., Couly C., Nasuti S., Serges D., Caillon S., Marchand & G. Greissing A. (2011). Globalization in the Amazon Region: conflicting answers from « Quilombo » communities. In P. Pachura (ed.) New Knowledge in a New Era of Globalization, Rijeka, Croatia, Intech Open Access, chap. 14, pp. 269-284.


3. Caillon S. (2004). Kokonas mo taros blong Vanuatu: nem mo storian. IRD, Orléans, 70p.

2. Caillon S. & Malau E.F. (2002). Coconuts and taro from the West Coast of Vanua Lava (Vanuatu): an ethno-agronomic inventory. IRD, Orléans, 30p.

1. Caillon S. & Malau E.F. (2002). Kokonas mo taros blong weskos Vanua Lava : wan katalog. IRD, Orléans, 49p.



4. Pérez D., Caillon S., Duputié A., López C., Vernière C. & Szurek B. (2019). Sociocultural factors involved in the epidemiology of cassava bacterial blight in the Colombian Caribbean – Poster. Third Jack R. Harlan International Symposium, SupAgro, Montpellier, 3-7 June.

3. Caillon S. (2010). Biennial rotations: Why do Mafa farmers abandon such an efficient agricultural system? (Mandara Mountains, North Cameroon). The 12th International Congress of the Society of Ethnobiology, Tofino, British Columbia, Canada, 9-14 May (poster).

2. Caillon S., Lebrun P., Berger A., Baudouin L., Labouisse J.-P., Bonnot F., Rouzière A. & Lescure J.-P. (2006). Mesures croisées de la diversité variétale. Cas des cocotiers du Vanuatu. Bureau des Ressources Génétiques. La Rochelle, 2-4 October (poster).

1. Caillon S., Quero-García J. and Lebot V.(2003) Taro (Colocasia esculenta) diversity in a village of Vanuatu: a multidisciplinary approach.Third Taro Symposium. Nadi, Fidji, 22-24 mai (poster)


3. Caillon, S. (2005). Pour une conservation dynamique de l’agrobiodiversité: gestion locale de la diversité variétale d’un arbre « des Blancs » (cocotier, Cocos nucifera L.) et d’une plante « des ancêtres » (taro, Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) au Vanuatu. PhD of Geography–Management–Environment. Orléans, Université d'Orléans, Orléans: 419p. (+272p. annex).

2. Caillon S. (2000). Stratégies d'échange et diversité variétale du manioc: leurs interactions chez trois ethnies équatoriennes. DEA Environment, Time, Space and Societies, Université d'Orléans, Orléans: 119p.

1. Caillon S. (1999). Agriculture traditionnelle et fleurs ornementales un mariage réussi en Amazonie. Engineer school in Agronomy, ENSAT, Toulouse: 56p.